Daryl Morey

Adam Silver: China Wanted Daryl Morey Fired

OCTOBER 18: Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang has said the Chinese government didn’t demand Morey’s firing, per an Associated Press report.

OCTOBER 17: Appearing on Thursday at the TIME 100 Health Summit (link via Sean Gregory of TIME), NBA commissioner Adam Silver told Robin Roberts that the Chinese government wanted Rockets general manager Daryl Morey fired in the wake of his tweet expressing support for protestors in Hong Kong. However, the league refused to entertain that idea.

“We made clear that we were being asked to fire him, by the Chinese government, by the parties we dealt with, government and business,” Silver said. “We said there’s no chance that’s happening. There’s no chance we’ll even discipline him.”

After Morey published and then deleted his tweet, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta issued a statement saying that the GM didn’t speak for the franchise and that the Rockets aren’t a “political organization.” However, that was about as far as the team or the league went in denouncing Morey. Silver later made a statement saying that the NBA supported Morey’s freedom of expression, a point he reiterated during his conversation with Roberts.

“These American values — we are an American business — travel with us wherever we go,” Silver said. “And one of those values is free expression. We wanted to make sure that everyone understood we were supporting free expression.”

Silver also said last week that he and the NBA understand that freedom of expression doesn’t mean freedom from consequences, and the league has been feeling the financial consequences of the China controversy.

At the TIME event on Thursday, the NBA commissioner said the league is not only “willing” to cope with lost revenues from China, but that it already is coping with those losses, which have been “substantial.”

“I don’t know where we go from here,” Silver said. “The financial consequences have been and may continue to be fairly dramatic.”

NBA/China Notes: Lakers, Nets, Rockets

While a debate raged stateside last week over the NBA’s handling of a controversy fueled by a Daryl Morey tweet expressing support for Hong Kong protestors, Lakers and Nets players found themselves in the eye of the storm as they prepared to play a pair of exhibition games in China. As Shams Charania of The Athletic and ESPN’s Rachel Nichols report, those players met with commissioner Adam Silver to discuss potential next steps when he arrived in Shanghai last Wednesday.

Charania describes Silver as being “extremely thoughtful and transparent” in talks with Lakers and Nets players, coaches, and executives, while Nichols refers to the meeting as “tense.” Multiple sources tell Charania that LeBron James said he believed Silver and the NBA had a responsibility to talk to the media about the situation in more depth before asking the players to do so. Players also spoke about wanting to feel safe and protected during the China trip without being put into unfair positions, Charania notes.

“Being in China, where there was no way of knowing what the Chinese government was thinking or going to do next and the high stakes between the U.S. and China politically, it was almost impossible for these young players to manage through that situation,” a source with knowledge of the meeting told Charania. “Obviously, if they were in the United States or somewhere else, it would have been totally different and handled differently.”

The exhibition games in Shanghai and Shenzhen took place as scheduled, though there was some skepticism earlier in the week that they would happen at all. According to Charania, a “sizeable amount” of players on the Lakers and Nets felt as if it would be best to cancel those games due to the ongoing chaos.

With both teams now back in America, here’s the last on the NBA/China saga:

  • Sources told Charania that some Lakers and Nets players lost money over broken deals in Shanghai, since they ended up not making planned sponsorship appearances. Charania also reports that at least two Rockets players had sponsorship negotiations with Chinese companies hit an impasse in the wake of Morey’s tweet.
  • Several executive and ownership sources who spoke to Charania believe Silver will “regain a foothold” in the league’s relationship with China, but fear “irreparable losses” for the Rockets going forward. China’s response to Morey’s tweet may end up costing the Rockets approximately $25MM in sponsorship money this season, one source estimates to Marc Stein of The New York Times.
  • During last week’s meeting with Lakers and Nets players in Shanghai, Silver was asked directly whether anything would happen to Morey, per ESPN’s report. According to ESPN, multiple players said they thought that if a player cost the league millions of dollars with a tweet, there would be repercussions. Morey won’t face any discipline from the league, which seems like the right call, since his message ostensibly showed support for human rights and democracy.
  • Tom Ziller of SBNation explores the two potential paths the NBA/China controversy could take from here.

Tension Between NBA, China Continues To Grow

Several days after Rockets general manager Daryl Morey deleted his now-infamous tweet expressing support for protestors in Hong Kong, the NBA and its partners in China don’t appear to be moving any closer to resolving the controversy it created.

Early on Tuesday morning, NBA commissioner Adam Silver followed up on the brief statement issued by the league on Sunday by publishing a new, lengthier statement which sought to clarify the NBA’s stance on the situation. In the statement, which can be read in full right here, Silver offered the following thoughts:

“Over the last three decades, the NBA has developed a great affinity for the people of China. We have seen how basketball can be an important form of people-to-people exchange that deepens ties between the United States and China.

“At the same time, we recognize that our two countries have different political systems and beliefs. And like many global brands, we bring our business to places with different political systems around the world.

“But for those who question our motivation, this is about far more than growing our business.

“Values of equality, respect and freedom of expression have long defined the NBA — and will continue to do so. As an American-based basketball league operating globally, among our greatest contributions are these values of the game.

“… It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the NBA to adjudicate those differences.

“However, the NBA will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”

In response to Silver’s latest missive, the Chinese state-run television network CCTV announced it would be suspending its broadcasting agreement for NBA preseason games, writes Arjun Kharpal of CNBC.

As Stephen Wade and Tim Reynolds of The Associated Press explain, the Lakers and Nets are scheduled to play in Shanghai in Thursday and Shenzen on Saturday, and while those games are expected to proceed as planned, they won’t be aired by CCTV. Silver admitted the league wasn’t expecting the network to take those measures, per The Associated Press.

“But if those are the consequences of us adhering to our values, I still feel it’s very, very important to adhere to those values,” the NBA commissioner said.

It’s not clear if the “temporary” broadcast suspension will last into the regular season, but CCTV issued a statement in Chinese (translated by MSNBC) making it clear that it wasn’t happy with the stance taken by Silver and the NBA:

“We are strongly dissatisfied and we oppose Silver’s claim to support Morey’s right of free expression. We believe that any speech that challenges national sovereignty and social stability is not within the scope of freedom of speech.”

According to comments relayed by Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer (Twitter link), Silver still intends to attend Thursday’s exhibition contest in Shanghai and hopes to meet with the appropriate officials there to find common ground with the league’s partners in China. However, he added that he’s a “realist” and recognizes that the issue may not be resolved quickly.

Silver also said that he plans to meet this week with Yao Ming, the former Rockets center who is now the chairman of the Chinese Basketball Association (Twitter link via Rachel Nichols of ESPN).

I’m hoping together Yao and I can find an accommodation, but he is extremely hot at the moment and I understand it,” Silver said.

While Silver’s latest press release asserted that the NBA’s stance is about more than “growing [its] business,” the commissioner acknowledged to Joel Fitzpatrick of Kyodo News on Monday that the controversy has already affected the league’s bottom line. According to The Associated Press’ report, the NBA’s agreement with Chinese streaming partner Tencent, which has said it will no longer show Rockets games, is worth $1.5 billion over the next five years.

However, Silver insisted that that those business issues wouldn’t affect the league’s support of Morey and others exercising their freedom of expression.

“There is no doubt, the economic impact is already clear,” he told Fitzpatrick. “There have already been fairly dramatic consequences from that tweet, and I have read some of the media suggesting that we are not supporting Daryl Morey, but in fact we have. I think as a values-based organization that I want to make it clear…that Daryl Morey is supported in terms of his ability to exercise his freedom of expression.”

Latest On NBA’s Morey/China Controversy

As we relayed on Sunday, the Chinese Basketball Association and other business in China have suspended their relations with the Rockets in the wake of a Daryl Morey tweet in which the Houston general manager expressed support for protestors in Hong Kong. Although Morey deleted the tweet and the Rockets and the NBA made efforts to walk it back, the league remains in a tenuous spot, writes Jeff Zillgitt of USA Today.

The NBA issued a statement on Sunday, calling it “regrettable” that Morey’s tweet had offended “many of our friends and fans in China” and noting that Morey’s tweet didn’t represent the Rockets or the NBA. However, the league doesn’t intend to fine, suspend, or otherwise punish the Houston GM, sources tell Zillgitt.

Interestingly, the NBA’s statement also looked a little different in Chinese than it did in English, according to Yanan Wang of The Associated Press. In Chinese, the league referred to Morey’s tweet as “inappropriate,” a word that didn’t show up in the English statement. League spokesperson Mike Bass said today that the discrepancy wasn’t intentional (Twitter link via Zillgitt).

The NBA has to walk a fine line in this controversy, since the league typically hasn’t discouraged its coaches, players, and executives from speaking up about political and social justice causes that matter to them. In this case though, it’s clear that the NBA’s business interests in China’s massive market are influencing the league’s decision to distance itself from Morey’s initial comments and to placate its Chinese partners.

Here’s more on the controversy:

  • John Gonzalez of The Ringer cited league sources who claim that the Rockets have debated Morey’s employment status and whether to replace him. However, several reporters – including Sam Amick of USA Today, Jerome Solomon of The Houston Chronicle, and Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (all Twitter links) – have heard from sources that’s not the case and that Morey’s job isn’t in jeopardy.
  • Morey hasn’t apologized for his initial tweet, but issued a follow-up statement in which he stressed that he didn’t intend any offense and expressed his appreciation for “our Chinese fans and sponsors.”
  • Rockets star James Harden, who has participated in promotional tours in China in the past, was among those in damage-control mode this weekend, per an ESPN report. “We apologize. You know, we love China. We love playing there,” Harden said. “For both of us individually, we go there once or twice a year. They show us the most important love.”
  • New Nets owner Joe Tsai issued an open letter to fans (via Facebook) providing more context on the situation in Hong Kong and China and criticizing Morey for not being “as well informed as he should have been.” Tsai’s framing of the Hong Kong protests as a “separatist movement,” rather than a fight for civil rights and democracy, echoes language used by the Chinese government. It’s worth noting that no NBA owner is more invested in China than Tsai, the co-founder of Alibaba Group.
  • The Chinese Basketball Association has cancelled the G League exhibition games between the Rockets‘ and Mavericks‘ affiliates scheduled to take place in the country later this month, sources tell Shams Charania of The Athletic (Twitter link).
  • For more analysis on the saga, be sure to check out pieces from Chris Mannix of SI.com, Daniel Victor of The New York Times, and Adam Zagoria of Forbes.

China Suspends Ties With Rockets After Daryl Morey Tweet

A tweet by Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has pushed the team into an international incident, explains an ESPN story.

The Chinese Basketball Association announced this morning that it will suspend cooperation with the Rockets after Morey expressed his support for protesters in Hong Kong who are demanding democratic reforms. Morey’s now-deleted tweet read, “Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.”

On its Weibo account today, the CBA blasted Morey for “improper remarks regarding Hong Kong” and expressed “strong opposition” to his statement. The controversy comes as the Rockets are in Japan for a pair of games with the Raptors.

China has maintained a close relationship with the Rockets ever since current CBA Chairman Yao Ming was drafted by Houston in 2002. The Rockets wear an alternate jersey that features Chinese lettering, and James Harden conducted a promotional tour of the nation this summer.

China is also an extremely important market for the NBA as it expands its overseas popularity. It has become the nation’s most popular foreign sports league, with China playing host to the World Cup last month.

Among those reacting to Morey’s tweet when it appeared Friday was Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta, who stressed that the franchise should not serve as a platform for political views.

“Listen….@dmorey does NOT speak for the Houston Rockets,” Fertitta tweeted. “Our presence in Tokyo is all about the promotion of the NBA internationally and we are NOT a political organization.”

Fertitta stressed to ESPN that he still has full confidence in Morey as a GM and the incident won’t affect his job security.

“I have the best general manager in the league,” Fertitta said. “Everything is fine with Daryl and me. We got a huge backlash, and I wanted to make clear that the organization has no political position. We’re here to play basketball and not to offend anybody.”

Rockets’ Daryl Morey Talks Tucker, Roster, Tax, More

We’ll have to wait a little longer to find out what Rockets general manager Daryl Morey thinks about the joint ruling made by the NBA and NBPA on Nene‘s incentive-heavy contract, a ruling which will reduce his trade value and essentially invalidate some creative cap work by Houston’s front office.

Before that ruling was reported though, Morey sat down with Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle to answer some other questions about the Rockets’ offseason and the upcoming 2019/20 season.

Feigen’s Q&A with the team’s top decision-maker is worth checking out in full, but here are a few of Morey’s most interesting comments from the discussion:

On whether Morey believes the Rockets will enter the season as the Western Conference favorites:

“Yes. We’re favorites. But as usual, there is some very tough competition: Clippers, Lakers, Utah. Then I’d say people are probably underrating Golden State still. We have a healthy respect for them. But we go in shooting for the No. 1 seed.”

On whether or not the Rockets have a “load management” plan in mind for their stars:

“I think there is a good chance you’ll see some guys resting when healthy. It all depends on the context of the season. If we start 7-11 again, I don’t think there’ll be a lot of resting. We’ll be battling for the playoffs. Everything is contextual. We need at all times to be looking at the ultimate goal of wining a title and what is the best decision. That’s why we don’t like to have any hard and fast rules. I don’t think that’s pragmatic.”

On whether the Rockets are interested in working out a contract extension with P.J. Tucker, who has two years left on his current deal:

“We’re open to the concept of extensions early. We have done it with players in the past. Normally, it’s the James Harden-type players. We’re open to it. That said, I have found you don’t really get to an agreement with what both sides are looking at to how the extension can work realistically until you are one year out. I wouldn’t expect any other extension from us this year, mostly because everyone is signed for multiple years.

On whether the Rockets, who have 18 players under contract, will make more additions:

“We’re going to have 20 going into camp. We can only keep 17 (including players on two-way contracts). Right now, we have nine fully guaranteed. I think we do have more roster opportunity than any team in the league at least for the back end of the rotation or guys that might come in if we take an injury.”

On whether Rockets ownership is willing to pay the tax:

“I’ve been authorized to do what it takes to win a title. … I would expect we’ll be over the tax at some point.”

Southwest Notes: Duncan, Morey, Iguodala, Zion, McClure

While perhaps not as noteworthy as some of the more marquee free agent news we’ve seen this summer in terms of on-the-court impact, Marc Stein of The New York Times opines that the return of all-time-great Tim Duncan to the Spurs as a full-time assistant coach under legendary head coach Gregg Popovich is a gigantic story all the same.

As Stein notes, Duncan has been a frequent visitor at the Spurs’ practice facility throughout his retirement, mentoring/coaching players along the way, but this had always been done outside of the limelight, a setting in which Duncan prefers. So his abrupt return to the court for an 82-game season filled with continual travel and other headaches is a bit surprising, to say the least.

One narrative as to why Duncan accepted a position on Pop’s staff despite his disposition is simply need. Duncan reportedly knew that his old coach was struggling to fill the last open spot on his bench staff after departures by longtime Spurs’ assistants Ime Udoka and Ettore Messina, and his loyalty dictated he offer his services.

Here are some more stories from around the Southwest Division:

  • As Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle tweets, Rockets general manager Daryl Morey said on Friday that while Houston is not yet done adding to their 2019/20 roster, the team is much more likely to make further additions by trade rather than via free agency.
  • According to Chris Herrington of The Daily Memphian, it’s not a certainty that trade offers for Grizzlies veteran swingman Andre Iguodala will improve as time goes on, and Herrington remains skeptical that Iguodala will play a meaningful role for the Grizzlies at any point.
  • Pelicans president of basketball operations David Griffin tells Jeff Duncan of The Athletic that rookie phenom Zion Williamson is still getting taller and that the team is more worried about making sure the 19-year-old is eating well and in good condition than what his playing weight will be.
  • The Grizzlies have hired Pacers player development coach David McClure as an assistant for new head coach Taylor Jenkins’ staff in Memphis, reports J. Michael of The Indianapolis Star. McClure also spent two seasons in San Antonio before joining the Pacers back in 2015.

Inside The Rockets’ Trade For Russell Westbrook

Two days before the agreement that brought Russell Westbrook to Houston was completed, Rockets GM Daryl Morey was pessimistic that it would get done, Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes in a retrospective of the deal. Feigen traces the steps that led to the Rockets’ latest high-stakes gamble and the Thunder’s decision to part with their franchise player.

Everything began late on July 5 when Kawhi Leonard announced he was joining the Clippers, followed by the news that Oklahoma City was trading Paul George there as well. Morey sent text messages to owner Tilman Fertitta and his son Patrick suggesting that a huge shakeup could be in the works in OKC. Other team officials were included in the discussion the next morning, then Morey talked to James Harden, who had already spoken to Westbrook.

“The discussion at that point among the basketball staff was, ‘Hey, we need to check in and see if this changes the direction.’ I guess there was a thought they might trade other guys like Russell,” Morey said. “You never know. At this point, it was pretty unknown.”

Morey placed a call to Thunder GM Sam Presti, but their early discussions remained general. They spoke frequently over the next few days as international prospects and other players were considered in a deal that eventually became Westbrook for Chris Paul and draft picks. Morey alerted Paul and his representatives that a potential trade was brewing. He also tried unsuccessfully to get a third team involved, although he wouldn’t reveal who he talked to.

“It didn’t seem that there would be a fit for both parties,” Morey said. “I told them (Tilman and Patrick Fertitta) quite a bit that it wasn’t going to happen because that’s what I believed. I didn’t think the pieces lined up. That’s why a three-team deal made sense. And I thought other teams would be more involved than we were; teams that had more fits.”

A day before the deal was completed, Presti expressed a preference for a two-team trade that was heavy on draft picks. The Thunder wound up with Houston’s top-four-protected selections in 2024 and 2026, along with two pick swaps that include top-four protection in 2021 and and top-10 protection in 2025. Once an agreement was reached, Morey tried to expand the deal by involving other teams, but he found interest was low. He said the hardest part was having to tell Paul that their partnership was over after two seasons.

“I hated that call,” Morey said. “I’m sure he hated it more. He’s been such a great player for us. We were moments away from winning a title with him.”

Rockets Plan To Keep Spending, Add Another Top Player

The Rockets are planning to keep their starting five intact and will attempt to “add a third star or a top mid-level player to our core,” GM Daryl Morey said in an ESPN Radio interview on Monday.

Reports surfaced late last month after the Rockets were eliminated by the Warriors during the conference semifinals that Morey had made available everyone on his roster with the possible exception of James Harden. Morey declared on the Golic & Wingo show that he plans to keep the core group of Harden, Chris Paul, Clint Capela, P.J. Tucker and Eric Gordon intact while adding another impact player to the mix.

Morey says he’s been given the green light from owner Tilman Fertitta to upgrade the roster, despite major luxury tax issues. The salaries next season for the above five players alone add up to approximately $115MM.

He also believes that with significant injuries to Warriors’ stars Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson and despite the pending trade of Anthony Davis to the Lakers, the Rockets should be considered the Western Conference’s premier team.

“We feel like we should be the favorite in the West, and we’re going to do moves to show people that we should be the favorite in the West, and that’s going to create a little tension when we do that,” Morey said. “But at the end of the day, we’re going to have at least our starting five back, which again most teams are scrambling to keep it together and we’re going to spend mid-level, we’re going to spend into the tax. We’re going to be one of the most expensive rosters, like we were last year and this year, and we’re going to be right there.”

Morey also addressed a few other issues:

  • He downplayed any disconnect between his superstar guards. An in-depth story from ESPN’s Tim MacMahon detailed the turmoil within the organization, including the tension between their two best players due to the differences in their preferred playing styles and personalities. “Two competitive superstars at that level, there’s going to be times when they are extremely competitive, extremely focused on how do we get to that next level, and when we don’t there’s going to be frustration,” Morey said.
  • He expressed optimism that the organization will reach a contract extension agreement with coach Mike D’Antoni, who is entering the final year of his deal. D’Antoni’s agent indicated a week ago that there was a lack of progress. “He’s going to be our coach next year. We’re hoping to work things out for the future right now; if we don’t, we’re going to work it out after next season,” Morey said.
  • He insisted that Paul had not asked for a trade, though his contract would be tough to move anyway. Paul has three years and approximately $124MM remaining on his deal, which includes a player option in the final season.

Mike D’Antoni’s Agent Denies Progress Toward Extension

The Rockets and head coach Mike D’Antoni may not be as close to an extension agreement as yesterday’s report indicated, tweets Mark Berman of Fox 26 in Houston. Warren LeGarie, D’Antoni’s agent, confirms that owner Tilman Fertitta and GM Daryl Morey met with the coach at his West Virginia home, but paints a different picture of negotiations.

“It’s not exactly representing the situation,” LeGarie said. “When they met with Mike … they had presented essentially what they considered (was) a new offer, even though for us it’s the same, it’s the same one that we’re not willing to do. They’ve taken (out) the $2.5MM buyout and made that a $5MM deal. It’s still not Mike’s market (value).”

D’Antoni listened to the offer from Fertitta and Morey, but didn’t engage in negotiations, telling them to present the deal to his agent.

“They’re never talked to me since,” LeGarie said. “So it’s not moving. It’s a little bit disingenuous what is being reported. They believe by going there and bypassing (me) that will somehow get it done. It won’t. … We have not been talking and we’re not closer to a deal.”

D’Antoni has one year left on his contract at $4.5MM. He has been the Rockets’ coach for the past three seasons, compiling a 173-73 record.